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September 30, 2012
On deck: South Carolina
There were no braggadocios words, no guarantees and no prideful boasts.
However, there was no mistaking the sense of excitement in the voice of right guard Chris Burnette when he talked about next Saturday's huge showdown, pitting 5th-ranked Georgia against 6th-ranked South Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN).
"It's exciting, really exciting," said Burnette, minutes after the Bulldogs outscored Tennessee 51-44. "This is the type of game you want to play in when you come to Georgia. You want to play in games that matter, and this one's certainly going to do that."
Burnette's certainly right about that.
The game pits the two teams picked by most to win the SEC East, but based on their current position in the respective college polls, have aspirations much higher than that.
ESPN's popular College GameDay show will also be televising live from Columbia, putting the eyes of the entire USA directly on the game, which has been won by the Gamecocks (5-0, 3-0) now for two straight years.
It's a game where quarterback Aaron Murray would no doubt like to earn a little redemption.
Last year, it was a pick-6 by Antonio Allen and lost fumble by Murray that Melvin Ingram returned for a touchdown which led directly to South Carolina's 45-42 win.
"I'm not worried about my legacy more than I am our team and this season, so for those reasons, this is a very huge game," Murray said. "I'm just looking at this as a huge opportunity. We're going to be ready to go."
The Gamecocks, who bounced back from a 17-7 deficit Saturday night to Kentucky to beat the Wildcats 38-17, have certainly had the Bulldogs' number the past two seasons, thanks largely to running back Marcus Lattimore who has rushed 64 times for 358 yards and three touchdowns against UGA.
"We know he's a great player," Bulldog linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "But I think Coach (defensive coordinator Todd Grantham) will put us in position to make plays. We'll practice hard and be ready to go."
Of course, the Gamecocks are hardly a one-man show.
Quarterback Connor Shaw has gutted out an injury-plagued season to play some of the best football of his career, having completed 35 of his past 39 passes for 497 yards.
But it's South Carolina's defense, particularly the front seven that figures on giving the high-flying Bulldogs their biggest challenge of the 2012 campaign.
Defensive ends Devin Taylor (6-foot-8, 267 pounds) and Jadeveon Clowney (6-6, 256) highlight one of the league's stoutest defensive fronts, which also include tackles Kelcy Quarles (6-4, 286) and Byron Jerideau (6-1, 316).
"That's a great front four, front seven, really," Burnette said. "It's going to be on us to make sure we give Aaron time to throw and Keith (Marshall) and Todd (Gurley) some holes to run. This is a game we know we're really going to have to execute well in to win."
Head coach Mark Richt likes the fact his team was pushed to the brink by Tennessee Saturday will his help put his Bulldogs in the frame they will need to be in for another war come Saturday night.
"I think anytime you get a gut-check, your heart starts pumping and you've got to make plays when it truly is a crunch time where it's do or die," Richt said. "To come out with a victory when we had to make plays gives confidence to our team and, I thought our team did a great job at halftime. There was no bickering, everybody knew it was 0-0, and it was basically could we come out and beat this team for 30 minutes?"
Murray just hopes to avoid the same type of mistakes he made against the Vols, which ironically included another pick-6 and a fumble that led to one of the Volunteers' five offensive touchdowns.
"You can't give the ball away, especially in big SEC games like next week," Murray said. "We know we have to protect the ball, do that and put points on the board."